Is There Hope for Your Church?

God is in the practice of restoring, renewing, and revitalizing people and churches, if they are willing to follow him and pay the price to see it happen. There is hope for your church![1]

Given the point to where God has led your church today, do you see any hope? Perhaps the downward trend has been a slow, demoralizing road. Perhaps the stagnation has you longing for something greater. Perhaps your church imploded after a season of conflict. Maybe your church’s struggle is different altogether. Yet, is there is hope for your church?

As I launch my small corner on Small Church Center, I want to begin, in a series of entries, telling you my story, as pastor of First Baptist Church of Aurora. I believe that many of you will be able to identify with the struggles I have faced, with the despair that I have felt, and with the hurt that came into my heart. If 80% of churches indeed have a flat or declining attendance and if 5,000-7,000 churches close each year, we and our churches are anything but alone in our struggles. However, I also believe that my story will help you to see that there is still hope for you and your church.

My first vocational ministry, at the not-so-ripe age of twenty-three, was at First Baptist Church of Aurora. After earning my undergraduate degree in theology, I accepted bi-vocational role in 2005. As I had grew up in a church that experienced several demoralizing cycles of conflict, First Baptist was a breath of fresh air. The church had been growing at 7-8% annually the previous two years, we had a new facility, and, most importantly, there was life. When I first arrived average attendance was just over 200. Eighteen months later attendance swelled to nearly 250. The church was growing financially as well, as the church was able to transition my part-time position to a full-time position in those eighteen months.

However, between mid-year 2007 and mid-year 2008, our church went from an average attendance of 250 to an average attendance of 50 people. Our budget was slashed by 2/3. All staff members in the church had left, with the exception of me. Conflict was everywhere. Blame filled every corner of the facility. The resulting demoralization was thicker than morning fog. The situation in the church was so bad that our youth pastor divorced his wife, yet nearly no one in the church even knew it happened.

At twenty-six years old, the church asked me to lead the church in the interim, following the departure of the lead pastor. My job for a year was to try to figure out everything that our church could not do anymore. The list of what we couldn’t do was larger than what we could still do. At twenty-seven, they removed the interim tag. Despite the pastor search team’s encouragement, I knew I would be held responsible to lead the church back to some sort of past glory.

Where was there hope for my church?  Where was there hope for me? Is there hope for you?

[1] Gary L. McIntosh, There’s Hope for Your Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012), 24

Feeding Hearts

Late last night I headed to the grocery to pick up some needed items.  As I was leaving the store’s parking lot, a car came roaring through the lane next to me.  I say “roaring” not because it was speeding, but because the car’s windows were down and the ground was shaking with the emanating […]

Why Churches Don’t Grow

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ – the local church – is a living thing.

So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: “Why not?”

Here are five “growth-restricting obstacles.”  My purpose is not so much to describe the solution, but to help correctly identify the cause. If we understand the reason for non-growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose and prescribe the cure.

Obstacle #1:  The Pastor. One of three pastor-related reasons may stunt the health/growth of a church:

  1. The pastor does not have a priority for outreach. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn’t, the church won’t.
  1. The pastor does not have a vision for outreach. Lack of vision for outreach is as much an obstacle as lack of priority. Pastors of growing churches believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate those new believers into their church.
  1. The pastor does not have the knowledge to lead the church in outreach. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in seminaries or Bible schools about how to effectively reach and assimilate new people.

Obstacle #2: The Church Members. There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when…

  • Members have no priority for reaching the lost. “Sure, our church should reach people,” some will say. “But me? I’ve got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled.”
  • Members have a self-serving attitude about church. If people believe the pastor’s primary concern should be to “feed the sheep,” the flock will never grow, and will eventually die.

Beyond the pastor and members, there are other barriers that keep churches from growing…

Obstacle #3:  Perceived Irrelevance.  Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the Gospel to those points of need. Non-growing churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message to their life.

Obstacle #4:  Using the Wrong Methods. Any farmer knows you can’t harvest ripe wheat…with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the Gospel. A bull-horn on a street corner…tracts in an urban neighborhood…youth outreach methods in a senior adult community… None of these methods are wrong. They are just inappropriate for the harvest field.

Obstacle #5:  No Plan for Assimilation. Over 80% of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.

There are many reasons why churches don’t grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out why it’s not growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?

Marriage Ministry: Where Do I Begin?

Chances are that you are aware of one or more couples in your church who could use some help with their marriages. Chances are that you unaware of more couples who also need help. And, of course, you have more things to do than you can handle and more people asking for your help than you feel like you can help.

How do I know? Before I went on staff at FamilyLife, I was the pastor of three different small churches in Ohio for a total of 17 years, and that was my story at each of those churches.

So where do you begin? Let me give you three options:

  1. Connect with me. While I primarily serve churches in northeast Ohio, I can work with churches anywhere. You can use the contact form on this website to get in touch with me. Once we connect, we can set up a time to talk about some high-impact marriage resources that will take very little time for you to implement in your church and potentially help dozens of couples.
  1. Have someone in your church connect with me. I know that you are busy. Overloaded, most likely. I also know that you probably have at least one church member who has a strong interest in doing something to help others in their marriages but doesn’t know where to begin. Using the contact form on this site, provide contact information for that person, and I’ll get in touch with him or her.
  1. Have me come to your church. If you are in northeast Ohio, then you can schedule me to come and speak at your church on a Sunday morning to share about marriage ministry and some of the resources that we use to help small churches succeed in this area. If you are outside northeast Ohio, then there may be someone else on the FamilyLife team who can come to your church. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

What Small Churches Can Learn from Great Inventors

Greenfield Village

I have always had a fascination with history and especially with innovators and inventors who have changed the course of history with their creativity, skill, and just plain stubbornness in sticking to their principles and goals. That fascination, and appreciation, was sparked again this past week when I had the privilege of visiting one of my new favorite places in the world – Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. If you have never been there, this is a must-see! For those who are unfamiliar with this gem of Americana – and I was until a year ago – it is a place put together by Henry Ford where America’s past can be experienced in the present.

Ford’s idea was that “we ought to know more about the families who founded this nation, and how they lived. One way to do that is to reconstruct as nearly as possible the conditions under which they lived.” And that’s exactly what he has done at Greenfield Village, an enchanting place where there are “83 authentic historic structures, from the lab where Thomas Edison gave the world light to the workshop where the Wright Brothers gave us wings…[to] the farmhouse where Henry Ford grew up.”

As I walked through these “authentic historic structures” and listened to the actors portraying these giants of the past, it struck me that these great historical icons weren’t just technical geniuses; they also possessed a huge amount of wisdom that is still prudent for us to apply to our world today. And, I believe that is especially true for small churches.

Thomas Edison

One of the greatest minds and inventors in American history was Thomas Edison. While probably best known for inventing the light bulb (although what he really invented was a practical, long-lasting filament made of carbon fiber) and “electrifying” America, he also held an amazing 1,093 patents, which included the phonograph, movie camera, storage battery, and the electric generator. He was truly a remarkable and talented man!

But here’s the thing: the biggest reason for his success wasn’t immense talent and intellect, although he certainly possessed those traits; rather it was hard work and belief in himself. So…with that in mind, here are five great truths we can learn from the likes of Thomas Edison and other great inventors.

Lesson #1: Success Begins with Hard Work

Edison understood better than most how important hard work is in reaching one’s goals. It was not uncommon for him to work hours and days on end – often without a break –until a task was completed. He even had a bed installed in his library at his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, so that he wouldn’t have to take the time to go home if he was in the middle of an important project. Now that’s an extreme that we are not recommending for pastors and church leaders, but you get the point!

Great churches don’t just happen. Certainly, anything we accomplish in life and ministry is through the grace and power of God, but there is also a huge correlation between the amount of work put into something and the results that are achieved.

Small churches are no exception. They are not going to get larger (or better) without a certain amount of sweat equity, beginning with the pastor. Anyone who thinks that a small church is an opportunity to coast or take it easy or ease into retirement or that it simply won’t make any real difference (or throw in your own excuse for not giving your best) is sadly deluding himself.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  — Thomas Edison

Tieman Edison 90 percent and hard work

Lesson #2: Never Give Up

Edison was once asked if he felt like a failure, because his thousands of attempts to invent a usable light bulb didn’t work. His reply: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”  Well, by not giving up, he finally found a filament (and a bulb created by using an innovative vacuum pump) that did work and, as they say, the rest is history. He literally changed the way that people lived and worked in America and around the world!

In a small church setting, it can be pretty easy to feel like a failure, especially when we start comparing ourselves to larger ministries around us. As a result, there is a tendency to give up, or more likely, not give our full effort. That is a huge mistake! The fact is we reap what we sow. That’s a biblical truth! (Galatians 6:7) Therefore, we need to continue to sow ministry and gospel seeds, if we want to have any hope for good results in the future. It may not happen right away – in fact, it usually doesn’t – but eventually there will be fruit! That’s God’s promise (John 15:5), and the experience of Edison, Ford, and other great inventors!

Tieman Edison try again

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

 Lesson #3: Believe in Yourself

Henry Ford was a man who came from humble beginnings and a tough childhood. He was born on a farm in Greenfield Township, Michigan and his mother died when he was 13. And yet, he went on to form his own multi-national company, set the record for most cars built of any one model – the Model T – and revolutionized the manufacturing industry by perfecting the moving assembly line.

Tieman Ford

Like Thomas Edison, the reason for Ford’s success wasn’t that he was smarter than everyone else. It was because he worked hard and believed in himself. And others believed in him, as well. While working for the Edison Illuminating Company, Ford approached Edison with his ideas about gasoline-powered automobiles. With Edison’s encouragement, Ford went on to create his own car company. Ford always believed that he would do something important with his life and work, and he did!

As a small church pastor or leader, your life and ministry is important, too! There are people who are looking to you for leadership and direction. They expect competence, character, and consistency in everything that you do. They believe (or they should) that you have been called to serve them and their community as God’s servant and undershepherd. To behave and think in any other way than that would be a disservice to those following you and a discredit to the divine office to which you have been called. So believe in yourself, believe God has called you to where you are for a reason, and others will, too!

“Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.”  – Henry Ford

Lesson #4: Experiment: Try Something New

We have already chronicled the importance of hard work and never giving up. These truisms naturally coalesce in another life lesson, the importance of experimentation. Edison demonstrated his belief in this idea by trying over 10,000 different filaments in his incandescent light bulb. Even after he came up with a workable model, he continued to tinker with success, ultimately settling upon a carbonized bamboo filament that would last over 1,200 hours in his new bulbs.

Tieman Einstein

Edison was never satisfied with his inventions. He not only wanted to improve them, he also wanted to move on to that which could be even bigger and better. In the church, it seems that we often do the opposite. Once we find something that works – or more likely, worked once upon a time, but doesn’t any longer – we stick with it no matter what. This is particularly true in smaller churches. If it was good enough for my parents and grandparents, it is good enough for me! And yet, the reality is that over 80% of our churches are not growing, in large part, because we are still using methods and strategies that haven’t worked in decades.

Why not try something new? What’s the worst thing that could happen? It could fail just as miserably as what we are already doing. What’s the best thing? It might actually work! Remember Einstein’s famous definition of insanity?  “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Maybe it’s time to try something new!

Lesson #5: Trust God for the Results

When Henry Ford was asked if he ever worried, he replied: No. I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn’t need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe that everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about?”  Another wise man once said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about…what you will wear. But seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25, 33) Oh, that wise man was also God!

In the end, we don’t know how all of our hard work, perseverance, self-belief, and experimentation will pay off. (Although I think we would all agree, that things will be way better than if we hadn’t invested in those pursuits!) What we can be sure of is that our great and loving God will be with us every step of the way and that He will give us the results that He desires!

Edison, Einstein and Ford were great inventors and thinkers, and there is much that we can learn from them. They believed that with hard work and dedication to an idea anyone could accomplish anything. In so doing, they accomplished some amazing things.

What about you? What’s your dream for the future? What would you like to see God do in your life and ministry? Whatever it is, if you are willing to work hard, keep after it no matter what, keep believing in yourself and your dream, and willing to try new things, there is absolutely no reason that you can’t accomplish your God-sized goal. Never underestimate the power of God, yourself, or your church!

Done and Gone…or Are They?

In my role as the Director of Church Publishing at Group, I spend a considerable amount of time chatting with pastors, denominational leaders, and church trend watchers.

About five years ago, I’d say that most of my conversations centered around whether churches in America were actually in a state of decline. Then, about three years ago, those conversations shifted to focusing on how fast are churches declining and what’s causing the decline.

As for my conversations now, the finger-pointing has essentially stopped. Many pastors I speak with are simply resigned to the fact that their church is in irreparable descent and, regardless of the cause or culprit, there’s not a lot that can be done except hold out for retirement or reassignment.

Or is there?

The Dones 

In June 2015, Group published a book by sociologists Dr. Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope called Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith. After sifting through hundreds of hours of in-depth interviews, Packard and Hope concluded there were four primary reasons why people are leaving the American church in droves:

  1. They are seeking community but have found judgement.
  2. They want to make a difference but have found church bureaucracy stifling.
  3. They want to have a conversation but have experienced only lecture.
  4. They don’t encounter God at church.

Millions of these “dones” are walking out of churches in search of something they simply feel can’t be found within our institutional walls. So where do they go? Have they lost their faith? And will they ever come back to church?

The answers to those questions may surprise you.

According to Packard and Hope, most dones are finding the community they were looking for. And, they haven’t lost their faith – they often say that they’re in active pursuit of more authentic ways to experience Jesus.

As for whether they’ll be back, that answer may encourage or discourage you based on how you define “church”.

According to the research, most dones will not return to the institutional church. It’s not that they have a particular disdain for the local church; they actually appreciate the important role that the church plays. They just feel that their spiritual and relational needs cannot be satisfied in a traditional church setting.

Rather than expending energy on trying to find ways to get the dones back in the box, maybe we should prayerfully be considering ways to think outside the box.

Reaching the Dones 

Back in 2010, we launched a highly relational (out of the box) outreach ministry called Lifetree Café. Lifetree Café is a weekly, one-hour, host-led experience that addresses a plethora of thought-provoking and relevant topics in a coffeehouse-style setting. Group provides the presentation and training materials via a monthly subscription delivered online. Churches or faith-based organizations typically sponsor these Lifetree Café ministries in existing church spaces appointed to look like a coffeehouse or at offsite locations like community centers, secular coffeehouses, wine bars, pubs, or cafes.

Many pastors have found Lifetree Café to be a much more economical and sustainable model than planting a church. We now have hundreds of Lifetree Cafes located in the U.S., Canada, and around the world.

When we first started launching Lifetree Café branches, we felt that this ministry would most likely appeal to people who had little or no experience with church. What we actually found was that most of the people coming into Lifetree Cafés had a considerable amount of church experience. In fact, many of our participants talked about growing up as regular attenders or even serving in leadership roles within the church. At some point in their journey, they just decided that church wasn’t for them. They were done.

Unintentionally, we had stumbled upon a ministry model that was attractive to people who were seeking community without judgment, free from bureaucracy, where they could ask questions and share doubts, and experience God in fresh, new ways.

The dones aren’t the only ones to which Lifetree Café appeals. We found that spiritually mature Christians enjoy their experience at Lifetree as well because it provides them a natural way to share their faith in a setting that encourages spiritual conversations. For the first time, people of all walks and beliefs can come together each week to grow in relationship with each other…and with Jesus.

For any church leader who may be reading this blog post and wondering what to do about the decline of their attendance, I’d like to quote the famous poet Dylan Thomas. “Do not go gentle into that good night.” There are amazing opportunities for ministry in today’s ever-changing, postmodern climate. It just may not perfectly match how you thought ministry is supposed to look.

The most critical tool in your toolbox is your willingness to consider change. I’m not talking about abandoning the foundations of the Christian faith, but I am challenging you to look objectively at whether or not the foundations that we’re often guilty of protecting are more self-serving than Jesus-centered. It’s when you focus on exploring any means possible to help people encounter Jesus that the doors of opportunity swing wide open.

Pastor Shows Passion for Reaching Teens

From a Business Career to Full-Time Ministry

It all started with a dream. No, honestly, the passion for pastoring a church of his own appeared to Pastor Jason Moore in the form of a dream. At 16, he had a vision of standing in front of a beautiful church. But his father deterred him from a job in ministry, claiming Moore would have difficulty earning a living. “There’s some truth to that,” Moore chuckles goodheartedly. He has an infectious smile and likes to talk with his hands.

[Church Information]

Church’s Name Passion Community Church
City, State Rootstown, OH
Denomination None
Year Founded 2006
Average Sunday Attendance 100
Lead Pastor/Minister’s Name Pastor Jason Moore
First Year at Church 2006

Rather than becoming a pastor, Moore pursued a degree, and a career, in business. That career started with a job as an e-commerce director at Little Tikes. After Moore had spent four years there, God reminded him of the dream, and this time Moore heeded the call. In 2006, he started Passion Community Church.

At first, Moore was a bivocational pastor, continuing to work full-time at Little Tikes. Seeking more control over his schedule, he left Little Tikes and started his own consulting business. He then was hired by TTI Inc. (Hoover and Dirt Devil vacuums), with the agreement that he would have flexible hours. It was difficult to balance two jobs, but Moore believes that pastors who want to do the same should “not leave their work. We need to train people how to be ministers within their workplace,” he says.

While Moore worked at TTI, Passion began to grow slowly. After four years, Passion had gotten too large for a pastor in part-time ministry, so Moore made the difficult decision to leave the business world for good and devote himself full-time to the ministry.

Putting the “Fun” in Dysfunctional

Passion, a nondenominational church, draws from an area with a 20-mile radius of the church’s meeting place, which until recently was the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) in Rootstown, Ohio. The wide area includes rural areas and suburbs of Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown. The church has grown because of a focus on building relationships.

Moore beams a good-natured smile when he was asked to describe his church. “We put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional,” he says, his roan eyes twinkling. “Our main focus is we are taking the church to the people instead of having people come to the church.”

Part of Moore’s strategy for taking the church to the people is to partner with others, including other churches in the area. The first Sunday of each month, the Passion youth group joins forces with 12-15 other area youth groups for Ignite, a unity service with worship, games, fellowship, and discipleship. Moore also is on the board of directors for the All Schools Assembly Program (ASAP), part of HarvestNet Ministries, which seeks to work through churches to transform northeast Ohio.

Reaching Out to the Schools

A key part of every community in northeast Ohio is the school system. Moore graduated from Southeast High School, which is about eight miles from NEOMED. Rootstown High School is even closer to NEOMED. Much closer. In fact, it’s right across State Route 44.

Shortly after starting Passion, Moore approached the superintendent of the Rootstown schools and said that Passion would be happy to help the school district in any way. The superintendent didn’t respond to the first request. Or the second. Or the third.

Finally, the superintendent said that Passion could help with a memorial garden at the Rootstown Middle School garden, which was in a state of disrepair after a long period of neglect. A small team from Passion went above and beyond the call and transformed the garden. The superintendent was impressed. It was the start of a relationship that eventually would bear much fruit, starting with an event at Rootstown and Southeast High Schools four years ago.

The Cornerback Makes Two Touchdowns

Moore met Ray McElroy, former NFL cornerback and chaplain for the Chicago Bears, when McElroy spoke at an ASAP event at a school in Cleveland. As a recent retiree from the NFL, McElroy had a vivacious vibe that enthralled his young audiences. He could deliver the Gospel message as well as he could tackle. Seeing how McElroy connected with youth, Moore secured McElroy to speak at ASAP events at Rootstown and Southeast High Schools.

For six months leading up to the event, the people of Passion prayed for the events and the schools. They also prayed for the $6,000 needed to finance the events, which Passion didn’t have. God, of course, heard the prayers and provided the support, through a meeting between Moore and a local business owner.

“The business owner called me into his office,” recounts Moore. “He had heard about the events, but he wanted details. What are you doing? And what is the cost. I told him. He wrote a check for the full amount. And he told me that, if we needed any more, then just let him know.”


At each school, the McElroy event would actually be two events. At an assembly during the school day, McElroy would deliver a “neutral message” and would invite the students to come back that evening for another message. At the evening event, McElroy would preach a Gospel message. According to Moore, at a successful ASAP event, about 10% of students come back for the evening event, and about 2% of students give or rededicate their lives to Christ after the Gospel presentation.

The results at Rootstown and Southeast redefined success for an ASAP event. Out of the 400 students at Rootstown, 175 returned for the evening event, and 110 gave their lives to Christ. The event brought in 43% of the student body, and 28% of Rootstown High School became Christians.

At Southeast, 400 out of the 650 students attended the second event, and 226 gave their lives to Christ. This event brought 62% of the Southeast High School population, and 35% dedicated themselves to Christ.

The numbers staggered Moore, and the events transformed the communities. The principal of Rootstown High School declared, “There has been a marked difference in the school.” Students began expressing their newfound faith in youth groups at Passion and other area churches. Typical attendance at Ignite went from 100 to 400. Today, four years later, Ignite attendance still is over 200.

The Rootstown event also strengthened the relationship between Moore and the school superintendent. The two began meeting once a month. That relationship would prove critical when tragedy struck Rootstown High School on Valentine’s Day of 2015.

Helping a School Deal with Tragedy

On February 14, 2015, “Sarah Johnson”[1] – a sweet, well-liked junior at Rootstown High School – lost control of her Chevrolet Cavalier on icy South Main Street in Akron and crashed into a tree. The man who had been driving behind her held her hand as she passed.

The day of the tragic accident was a Saturday, and the following Monday was President’s Day, a school holiday. The Rootstown school district organized a session of mourning on that Monday, and the superintendent asked Moore to attend. Over 1,000 people attended. There were no microphones; everyone gathered on the basketball floor, joined in small groups, and discussed Sarah’s life. Moore and other ministers went from group to group. Moore prayed and spoke with many.

Recognizing that the school did not have enough counselors to handle all of the grief-stricken students, the superintendent asked Moore and several other pastors to speak with the students at Rootstown High School the next day, when classes were back in session. There was a long line of students seeking counseling. Because of IGNITE, many of those students were familiar with Moore and other pastors, and the students preferred to speak with pastors instead of counselors.

“The teachers asked me to speak in the classes that Sarah would have attended,” recounts Moore. Moore knew that, in a public school, he could not volunteer information about his faith, but he was allowed to answer questions from students. Armed with encouragement from the superintendent – “I trust you” – Moore spoke to five classes.

“The first question a student asked was, ‘Is Sarah in heaven?’ I had to answer honestly,” says Moore. “I didn’t know much about Sarah’s faith, so I said, ‘We don’t know.’ I then explained what I as a Christian believe about how we get to heaven.

“I stayed at the school for the rest of the week,” Moore continues. “I lost track of how many students I spoke with. It was hundreds. I spoke with teachers, too.”

All About Relationships

Shortly after that week, the superintendent asked Moore to lunch, where he posed the question, “How can I get you here all the time?” Would Moore be willing to move Passion from NEOMED to Rootstown High School? Moore didn’t hesitate; he said “yes” immediately. It took six months to make the transition, but today Passion meets at Rootstown High School.

The church does more than hold Sunday worship services at the high school. Moore organized a weekend food backpack program for 86 students on reduced lunch programs. A food pantry is in the works, as are clothing donations for students who need them.

When asked what advice he has for other small churches, Moore leans forward with his hands clasped and simply states, “It all starts with a relationship.”

Even with the successes that Passion has had, Moore admits that it is easy as a small-church pastor to become burned out. Pastors often focus on numbers, but he maintains that “you have to think about the impact you’ll make. Those little steps make such a big difference in those relationships. It allows us to do big things like ASAP and being there when a student dies.”

From maintaining a middle school garden to bringing over 330 students to Christ at a youth event, Moore pours his heart into the community one small step at a time. Even though some days drain him, Moore continues to live out his dream in every waking moment.

[1] The name of the girl has been changed.

Revitalization Game Plan: An Interview with Terry Tieman

The following is excerpts from a fall 2015 interview with Terry Tieman. The complete interview is available in Today’s Vital Church, Volume 2.

Terry Tieman, who lives in the Memphis area with his wife Becky, began his career in ministry as a pastor in Michigan and Arkansas. He then served for 13 years as Mission Executive of the Mid-South District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS).

In January 2009, Terry became the Executive Director of Transforming Churches Network (TCN), which helps churches become more effective in reaching their communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. TCN’s transformation process – which is based on Biblical principles and was developed through worldwide research on effective mission movements and pilot projects – has successfully changed hundreds of churches from the inside out. Terry continues to gain front-line experience as Revitalization Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Memphis.

In this interview, Terry explains how a church can put together a revitalization game plan.

An Inward Focus

…I began to get frustrated with our church planting process. We planted so many churches that got stuck at 75 or 100 in worship — some grew to be larger than that, but most didn’t. Now some of that was because they were in smaller communities, but there were some, especially in larger cities, that should have gotten bigger.

Several of us Mission Executives around the country formed a task force and did a study…What we discovered was that most of these churches were planted out of convenience. They were Christians, primarily Lutheran Christians, who just didn’t want to drive 25 or more miles to the nearest church of their denomination, so we had helped them start new churches in their area. (In a few cases, it was more of an ethnic or immigrant situation.) Once they got to around 100 in worship, they thought that they had enough people to support themselves, and so they didn’t work very hard at outreach. That “outreach DNA” just wasn’t in most of those churches. The planted ones were just like the old ones. They were inward-focused.

Bolinger: They were just attracting like-minded Lutherans in their communities, not bringing in people who didn’t know Christ.

Tieman: Right. They were bringing in some dechurched folks – who had gotten disgruntled with their former church or who were excited about a new church plant – but there wasn’t a lot of conversion growth, people going from not knowing Jesus to coming into the Kingdom.

Bolinger: Were you seeing a similar dynamic in established [LCMS] churches?

Tieman: Yes. And that’s what got me started with TCN. It was a realization that most of our churches were inward-focused. Outreach and connecting to the community were really not a passion. They knew they should do it – it’s Scriptural – but it wasn’t very well organized or at the top of the priority list for pastors or churches. Only when they got desperate, seeing so many fewer people in the pews, did they consider making outreach a priority. But it wasn’t in the DNA of a lot of churches. It was not seen as the primary reason they exist: to make disciples for Jesus and reach lost people.

People in our denomination started talking about what we could do to get churches to start focusing outward instead of inward…Most older churches are declining, because they have forgotten their first love, they have forgotten why they started. A church gets complacent after a while. It gets a building that it has to maintain, and programs to keep going, and these things become more important than sharing the Gospel with the community and making disciples. A church often gets complacent because its decline is so slow that it doesn’t even recognize that it’s happening…

Things don’t have to continue to decline and deteriorate. They can be better. Your best days can be ahead of you. From a Biblical perspective, it’s Law and Gospel. (Laughs.) The Law is that what you’re doing is wrong and needs to change. The Gospel is that there’s good news: God can change the situation; He can empower you and use you to make disciples.

Of course, you really need to have outward-focused pastors and help them through the change process. That’s why we have developed Learning Communities, where we bring pastors together and show them a new and better way. The challenge is to help pastors change the way they do ministry so that they’ll stick to it and not blow up their church by going too fast or making too many changes without getting ownership from the congregation. Directional coaching can help here, too.

Hinge Factors

Bolinger: Let’s consider a church that recognizes that it’s declining and has a sense of urgency about turning things around. Leaders at the church are willing to “shake things up” and do things differently. People at the church have a sense of hope that they can do this. What are the critical things that they need to do in the first year?

Tieman: The four components are vision, relationships, ministry, and structure. You need to have these components in the right places in your church.

Imagine that a church is a car. A declining church usually has structure – governance, how you run your church – in the driver’s seat. The church focuses on maintaining facilities and programs. It’s about survival. A typical small, declining church does not have enough people to man all the positions that are required by the constitution and by-laws. Boards and committees don’t get completely filled, and many people wear numerous hats. They spend all their time and energy essentially going through the motions, having meetings, and trying to maintain the traditions of the past. Meanwhile, they’re not getting into the community and sharing the Gospel. There’s no sense of excitement or the power of the Holy Spirit working amongst them.

When structure is driving, the church is focused inward. We want to put structure in the back seat, because we want vision in the front seat. The vision is a clear picture of a preferred future. Where does God want this church to go? To determine that vision, the leaders of the church must stop focusing inward and start focusing on the community that they want to reach.

…there are human factors, or hinges, that open the door for the Gospel into the local community. Through our research, we have identified eight Hinges that churches can use to open their doors to the community. So the first step is for a church to do an assessment survey to find out how well they are doing in each of the eight areas.

The eight Hinges fall into two different groups of four. The first group applies to leadership, especially the senior pastor, and the second group refers to the congregation as a whole. Specifically, the pastor factors are:

  1. Empowering God’s People for Works of Service
  2. Personal Leadership
  3. Visionary Leadership
  4. Bridge-Building Leadership

The congregation or church factors are:

  1. Community Outreach
  2. Focused Prayer
  3. Functional Board
  4. Inspiring Worship

Of course, there are lots of surveys and assessment tools out there for churches to use. The big difference is that ours is tied to a systematic revitalization process called Seasons of Discovery. This is a step-wise church transformation process delivered in four seasons over two or more years, designed for easy integration into the parish calendar, that helps the congregation engage their community with the Gospel. This approach has been very effective in hundreds of congregations all over the country. In every case, congregations that were inward-focused have begun to open the doors of their church outward and have had a missional impact on their community.

The key ingredient in the process is that the pastor receives a trained coach. The coach, who is an expert in the revitalization process, helps the pastor and congregation work through the various hinge factors, especially those where improvement is most needed. TCN provides a whole package of resources, including sermons, bible studies, training guides, leadership lessons, etc., for each of the four seasons. And what are the four seasons you ask? They are 1) Preparation, 2) Visioning, 3) Outreach, and 4) Empowerment.

First Steps

…after the Hinge Survey is taken and a coach begins working with the pastor, the next step is to recruit a core group of people to begin doing missional activities. We call these folks People of Passion because they are passionate about Jesus – they love their Lord. They love their local church. They love their community, and they want to see it change for the better. They want to see people coming into the Kingdom. Every church, no matter how small, has some people like that. We ask the pastor to recruit as many as he can. We start with that group. This will be the leaven in the loaf, a way to establish critical mass.

We have them start with prayer walking. That’s the first session. What most churches want to do is study things to death, and they never get around to doing anything. We give them 10 minutes of orientation, and then we go do it. There are lots of variations of prayer walking, which I won’t go into now. They just pray for what they see, and they get a sense of their community and what God’s already doing. They almost always come back excited, because they see God doing stuff, and they realize that things can change. So it always begins with prayer. They need to go into a period of prayer and pray like they’ve never prayed before.

The next step is community surveying. You go back to the same places you prayer walked – perhaps joined by additional people who are excited about the possibilities, so your group is expanded – and you ask people questions. We have three very simple, non-threatening questions that we recommend you ask:

  1. Describe our church in three words. – This indicates if anyone in the community knows who your church is and, if so, what their perception is. That’s very powerful.
  2. What needs do you see people struggling with in this community? – You ask about other people’s needs instead of the needs of the people whom you are asking the questions.
  3. If you were interested in finding a new church, what qualities or characteristics would you be looking for?

All of the questions are non-threatening. You’re not trying to witness or solicit, unless, of course, they ask you. Some groups knock on doors. We generally don’t recommend that. Just go someplace where you’ll find people.

Then you go to community leaders: the mayor, the city council, the Chamber of Commerce, schools, police. We have a list of questions you can ask them, but you’re basically asking what the needs of the community are. Usually, they’re happy to tell you. You finish with a very important questions, which is, “How can we help you meet the needs of the community?” In other words, “How can we partner with you to help you do your job better?” Community leaders love that. Nobody asks them that! People usually come to complain. You’re starting to establish partnerships in the community.

…Once you have worked through these missional activities under the guidance of your coach, the next step is a visioning day. You bring the leaders of the church, the influencers of the church, the people of passion together, and you go through a process where, by the end of the day, you can write a vision statement. You are trying to discern what God is telling you to do. You choose the mission targets where you are going to start based on your prayers and where the needs of the community intersect with the gifts of the church. Depending on the size of the church, there will be one to four targets. A tiny church can handle only one; a large church may have four.

Once you have determined your vision and your initial mission targets, then you need to determine your main strategies or ministries. Most churches are doing way too many things, and they may not do any of them all that well. Even if they do them really well, the ministries may not be connected to the community – they may just be serving their own members. We try to help them narrow it down so that they do a few ministries really well and connect them to whatever targets they are trying to reach.

All your activities, all your events, and all your programs should be in alignment with your vision and your targets. You should connect all of this to Scripture as to why you are doing it. That becomes the accountability mechanism for the future. You measure an outreach activity or event on how many people from your target showed up.

To determine if all of a church’s activities are aligned with its vision, we would ask the church to do a ministry audit. If they are not [aligned], then the church needs to quit doing them or change them so they are [aligned].

For the rest of my interview with Terry Tieman, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1. And be sure to get a copy of Hinges, the book co-authored by Tieman.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.